Without a smidgen of hesitation, I name Pluto news-maker of 2015. Not since childhood Moon landings, has space exploration garnered the attention of New Horizons mission to Pluto. New Horizons doesn’t mind collective ignorance of her stoic journey. Ten years across 3 billion kilometers was never meant to be a matter of public scrutiny. July 14, 2015, New Horizons blushed with pride. Unprepared for accolades and global admiration, New Horizons mid-summer fly-by of “once a planet” Pluto snagged imaginations of the world. Overnight, Pluto and its moons rode a wave of awe and wonder. Mars might be a proper planet, but insignificant Pluto is glorious. Pluto captured our hearts in 2015 – nothing will ever be the same.
Pluto gets into the holiday spirit, decked out in red and green. This image was produced by the New Horizons composition team, using a pair of Ralph/LEISA instrument scans obtained at approximately 9:40 AM on July 14, from a mean range of 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers). The resolution is about 7 kilometers per LEISA pixel. Three infrared wavelength ranges (2.28-2.23, 1.25-1.30 and 1.64-1.73 microns) were placed into the three color channels (red, green and blue, respectively) to create this false color Christmas portrait.
In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles (530 kilometers) across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, 2015, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers).
In this highest-resolution image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust appear jammed together in the informally named al-Idrisi mountains. Some mountain sides appear coated in dark material, while other sides are bright. Several sheer faces appear to show crustal layering, perhaps related to the layers seen in some of Pluto’s crater walls. Other materials appear crushed between the mountains, as if these great blocks of water ice, some standing as much as 1.5 miles high, were jostled back and forth. The mountains end abruptly at the shoreline of the informally named Sputnik Planum, where the soft, nitrogen-rich ices of the plain form a nearly level surface, broken only by the fine trace work of striking, cellular boundaries and the textured surface of the plain’s ices (which is possibly related to sunlight-driven ice sublimation). This view is about 50 miles wide. The top of the image is to Pluto’s northwest.
New Horizons scientists use enhanced color images to detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. When close-up images are combined with color data from the Ralph instrument, it paints a new and surprising portrait of the dwarf planet. The “heart of the heart,” Sputnik Planum, is suggestive of a source region of ices. The two bluish-white “lobes” that extend to the southwest and northeast of the “heart” may represent exotic ices being transported away from Sputnik Planum.
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view. The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).
Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI